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Dramaturgs’ Note: Celebrating Christmas Around the World

By Emma Rollins, dramaturg

Rejoice, we’re back in person. Rejoice, the semester is almost over. Rejoice, that your family member is coming back to health. Rejoice, Jesus wins in the end. Whatever it is, rejoice. The theme of Christmas Around the World this year is Rejoice. But rejoicing isn’t always joyful. Just as Adam and Eve had to learn joy from pain, good and bad often go hand in hand. So while we celebrate this Christmas season, let’s reflect back on what we’ve had to experience to help us rejoice. In this modern day and age, the pain and hardship we see with the Covid-19 pandemic have affected us all. The announcement of a global pandemic, and finally the world moving forward, has been a major part of our history. March 12, 2020, will forever be remembered by many as the day Brigham Young University shut down and everyone left. Not knowing what the future would hold or how long the hardships were going to last, we pushed forward. The pandemic remained dominant and still rages on. With the 60th anniversary of Christmas Around the World being postponed, we learned even more what that pain can do to foil our joy and rejoicing. 

Finally, we can begin to rejoice because today we are back together, in person, and enjoying dances from around the world. Through perseverance, we gained the ability to be even more grateful for that which we have once more. Though hardships do unfortunately exist, the good that comes from them can be appreciated far more if we allow those same hardships to soften our hearts.

 

Christmas Traditions

As the Christmas Season approaches, the world becomes brighter and better when we turn towards tradition. Whether that’s a favorite food, a favorite song, or just the season, this can be a very joyous time of year for all people. As we reflect on traditions, we look specifically at Scandinavia, including the countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Around the Christmas holiday, Scandinavia celebrates Advent, a traditional holiday ritual. It’s a way to light the world as we get closer to the celebration of Christ’s birth. 

On each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, families, and friends gather together and sit down to light a candle representing something they hold dear to their hearts. These are often ideals, such as hope, healing, joy, and humanity. 

The word “Advent” derives from the Latin word “adventus,” meaning “coming,” as in Christ is coming. So it seems only fitting that a song that is traditionally sung in connection with Advent is the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” While on the surface, this hymn is about the birth of Christ, a double meaning in each of the verses is the idea that we are also preparing now for Christ’s return. In the original version written during the eighth or ninth century, it was written with repeating O Antiphons. The verses originally were sung: “O Sapentia (Wisdom)/ O Adonai (Hebrew word for God)/ O Radix Jesse (stem or root of Jesse)/ O Clavis David (key of David)/ O Oriens (dayspring)/ O Rex Genitum (king of the Gentiles)/ O Emmanuel/ (O Virgo virginum [virgin of virgins]).” If you take the first letter of the second word of each antiphon it spells SARCORE. Which, if read backwards, forms a two-word acrostic, “Ero cras,” meaning “I will be present tomorrow.” 

With hope and joy, we not only look back and rejoice, but look forward to Christ’s return. As the candles burn to signify the light that HE brings into the world we can look forward, knowing that although life might be hard right now, there is an immeasurable amount of joy and happiness that is waiting for us.

 

Carol of the Bells

Although not rich in lyrics pulled from scripture, unlike Handel’s “Messiah,” “Carol of the Bells” reminds us about the important need for hope during the Christmas season.

Like the Israelites in the first century, we await a Savior to return to the world and set everything right. As we wait, we remember the first time our Savior came to earth and brought hope to the world.

Through this song, we can also discover the importance of hopeful lyrics during the most difficult times of our lives. The original version of this song was composed during one of the greatest atrocities the world had ever seen, the first World War. People had never witnessed destruction to that caliber.

Finally, “Carol of the Bells” shows us that we can transform something and make it into something beautiful. We may find that throughout our lives God shapes us from one thing into another. The song originated as a New Year’s tune, but now, almost every church sings the song for the Christmas season.

No matter what the case, God can use us as a vessel for hope, to bring cheer to people no matter what the season: Christmas, New Year’s, or another time of the year entirely. 

– Mark Geslison (Mountain Strings Director)

With the pandemic and the way the world is changing, now is the time, more than ever, to have hope for the future. We saw a world shut down in what felt like a matter of moments and we are just now beginning the process to step out of the turmoil. Carol of the Bells, written in a time of turmoil during World War I, was striving even then to portray hope and joy amidst the heartache and pain. Just as Carol of the Bells states, let us “send on without end [our] joyful tone to every home” this season as the world is still trying to recover from our turmoil, and let us turn to hope. Let us understand the pain that we had to go through and turn towards joy that combats the pain. Rejoice, Jesus is the Christ. Rejoice, it’s Christmas time. Above all else, rejoice!

 

2 Comments

  • Isabella

    I’m very grateful to the power of dramaturgy for making my rejoicing a little more sincere this year. Knowing a little more about the origin of these sacred songs as well as some of the traditions of fellow worshipers around the world adds a little more hope and love to my holiday. Thank you for your hard work to make this post possible! It certainly put a little more joy in my festivities this year 🙂

  • Spencer

    I love how much this performance is tied to rejoicing. It is so important to remember year round but especially at the Christmas season which can be a sadder time for some people. The quote you included about “Carol of the Bells” showing us how we can transform the season is especially beautiful to me. I’m glad that there was dramaturgical work encouraging me to action and the evidence Christmas Around the World provides for how we can be transformed by the season was especially touching.

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